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Security in the Western Balkans ⋆ Visegrad Insight

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The war in Ukraine has become a security threat throughout Europe, including the Western Balkans, where still open questions could follow the “Ukrainian scenario” and create problems.

The war in Ukraine has shaken the European order built after the end of World War II. Since the end of the war in Europe, there have been no cases of military intervention by one state in another or unilateral annexation of territories, even in the Balkans.

While around the world, military interventions in other countries have been virtually commonplace over the past two decades, such as the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, US interventions in Libya and Yemen, no none of them resulted in the annexation of territories. or the dissolution of the respective States.


The first signs of this upheaval began with the war in Georgia in 2008, a limited war but which sent the message that it was necessary to stop the enlargement of NATO to countries bordering Russia and that in the future , Russia would react forcefully.

The second case was the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the start of the war in Donbass. The sanctions taken by Western countries against Russia during this period were not enough to cause as much harm as to slow down Russia. On the contrary, sanctions make Russia even more immune and invulnerable to sanctions, and even more self-reliant.

The current war in Ukraine is essentially a clash between Russia and the United States and NATO for control of Ukraine. In recent years, following the annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian governments have taken several steps toward NATO integration with the prospect of possible future membership.

Meanwhile, Russia in Ukraine was losing territory that was historically part of the Russian Empire and in which almost 30 percent of the population had Russian as their native language, but at the same time it risked establishing bases of near Crimea, a territory that Ukraine claims as its own and which, from the Russian perspective, would increase the possibility of a military confrontation with NATO in Ukraine. This war is an attempt to prevent Ukraine’s full integration into NATO and to turn Ukraine into a buffer zone between Russia and the United States/NATO.

Geopolitical consequences of Ukraine

To better understand the geopolitical consequences of the war in Ukraine for the Western Balkans, we still need to see what the end of the conflict will be. The first scenario is that the end of the conflict would be a victory for Russia in achieving its objectives such as the neutrality of Ukraine, non-membership of NATO, the demilitarization of Ukraine and the securing of territory connecting Donbass to Crimea.

The second scenario is that Russia fails to achieve the above-mentioned goals in Ukraine and the third scenario is that Russia and Ukraine reach an agreement that only meets some of Russia’s conditions, but without including Donbass and the territory connecting Donbass to Crimea.

According to the first scenario, Russia would emerge geopolitically much stronger from the conflict. It would have shown that, by force, it had succeeded in forcing a State to stop the rapprochement of a sovereign State with NATO, or even to dismantle and hypothetically annex part of its territory. One consequence of this situation would be that enlargement and rapprochement with NATO on Russia’s borders could end, as other states would try to avoid what happened in Ukraine.

Another consequence would be the geopolitical strengthening of Russia in the Balkans, particularly on two points: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Due to the deep disagreement between Russia and the West, the Russian (but also Chinese) veto against Kosovo at the UN would become even stronger, which would strengthen Serbia’s position as an ally of Russia against Kosovo in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. In Bosnia, Republika Srpska could try to do like Donbass in Ukraine and seek help from Russia, which would certainly come.

In the second scenario, Russia would emerge from the conflict much weakened and would lose part of its geopolitical weight in the Balkans. One of the consequences would be that Serbia’s position in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue would deteriorate and Serbia, as an ally of Russia and not participating in sanctions against Russia, would be placed by the United States and the EU faced with the possibility of choosing between Kosovo and the West. and the hypothetical possibility of sanctions. if he tried to further block the process.

In the third scenario, Russia would continue to exert its geopolitical influence in the Balkans, but if it did not achieve the expected success in Donbass, it would significantly weaken the efforts of the Serbs in northern Kosovo and the efforts of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina to move as planned. as far as possible from the central government of the respective states. The lesson of the third scenario for Donbass would be that such efforts fail and the economic, political, military and human cost is too high. This example would have a chilling effect on any similar efforts in the Western Balkans.


The war in Ukraine has become a security threat throughout Europe, including the Western Balkans, where still open questions could follow the “Ukrainian scenario” and create problems. Two of the most vulnerable regions in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine are Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, launched ten years ago, has not been successful until now. Kosovo and Serbia have not taken a step towards mutual recognition and the positions of the parties seem completely different on the main issue which is the direct or indirect recognition of the independence and statehood of Kosovo by Serbia .

Meanwhile, the three Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo continue to operate largely outside the control of the government in Pristina and pose a threat to the security of the state of Kosovo. The war in Ukraine could push the Serbs in northern Kosovo to take the same actions as the Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk toward secession and then seek help from Serbia, just as Donbass sought help from Russia . In Kosovo, this “Ukrainian scenario” is less likely.

First, there is a large NATO base in Kosovo, where not only some American soldiers are present, but also other NATO countries, which are in any case ready to face external and internal threats.

The region most threatened by the consequences of the war in Ukraine is Bosnia and Herzegovina. For years, a dysfunctional state due to the division of power between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats who obstruct each other in almost all laws.

For years, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has talked about independence and secession for Republika Srpska, the territorial half of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is in Republika Srpska that the “Ukrainian scenario” is most likely, in which Bosnian Serbs may declare independence and be aided by Serbia or Russia itself, seeing the region as an opportunity to open a front against the West. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia exercises considerable influence in Republika Srpska, influence which does not exist in Kosovo.

But many of these consequences depend on whether the war in Ukraine continues and ends. The loss of Russia, or a very weakened exit from the conflict, would have a positive impact on the security of the Balkans, because it would on the one hand reduce Russian influence in the Balkans and, on the other hand, give a warning to all other State or entity. This would amount to doing the same thing by showing that sanctions and Western reactions would be unaffordable.

This article is part of the Futures markets in the Western Balkans project supported by the Visegrad International Fund.

Picture: “20140525 Kosovo IMG_7964» (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Mr Ulster


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